“You have an in‘SPIRE’ing opportunity before you,” heritage architect Chris Borgal told a group of interested Sackville citizens who met following his presentation to the Sackville Town Council on Monday, Oct. 7. “The spire of the former United Church building has been a beacon and a landmark of this community for well over one hundred years. Lose it now and you lose an essential part of the town’s identity.”
Recent days have seen a remarkable turnaround in conversations about the future of the vacant building, which faces urgent maintenance issues if it is to be saved. Two weeks ago, a report commissioned by Renaissance Sackville painted a bleak picture, suggesting that while restoration and re-purposing are possible, repairs and ongoing operational costs could be high.
Chris Borgal turned this argument around, stating bluntly,“You can’t afford not to save this building. It is critical to the future of the core area of Sackville.
“And it doesn’t require a huge immediate expenditure,” he explained. “Two steps require urgent attention if the building is to be saved. One is to patch the leaks in the roof. The other is to remove plaster and lath from one corner of the interior in order to eliminate the growth of wood-eating fungus before it does major harm to the structure. Do that before the snow flies and you’ll have bought yourselves two years or more in which to raise funds and develop and carry out plans for the long term.”
The internationally-respected specialist donated his time to come to Sackville, a visit endorsed by the Heritage Canada Foundation, which is concerned about this nationally significant site.
Although Borgal’s heritage restoration credits include large-scale projects such as the National Ballet School and the façade of the Peace Tower and Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, he is no stranger to small town ventures. One of his early successes was the restoration of a number of vintage buildings in Blyth, a village of 1,000 people in rural southwestern Ontario. That undertaking led to establishment, in 1975, of a year-round cultural centre and a summer theatre festival that now attracts over 90,000 visitors annually to the tiny community.
“The reasons for restoring Sackville’s former church building to new and creative purposes go far beyond a sentimental love of heritage,” he stated. “Upgrading the core of the town will help to create a new economy for the entire downtown business district by drawing people into the centre of Sackville, not only to attend events at a new community centre, but also to eat, drink, and purchase goods and services from local businesses.
“Maintaining a distinctive streetscape is central to a strategy of economic revival,” he continued. “Making it happen will be a good measure of the commitment that Sackville citizens have to their community.”
The process of making it happen may be well under way already if the enthusiasm of the dozen and a half citizens who met with him is any indication. Within two hours, the informal group had identified the need to establish a trust or other incorporated body to take responsibility for a restoration campaign. Volunteers had declared their willingness to do fundraising, promotion, project management, and provide architectural and legal advice.
The next step, according to Virgil Hammock, who has agreed to act as interim chair of this informal committee, will be to hold a larger public meeting before the end of October for the purpose of creating a legally constituted organization and turning talk into action.
“I expect we will announce the time and place of that meeting in the next few days,” Hammock concluded.